It’s not often that my two biggest passions–genealogy and film photography–intersect. So, when FPP Producer Michael Raso asked if I might research up some genealogical info on Arthur B. Holmes’ 1930s 16mm home movie film (he had purchased on ebay), I was thrilled to accept the challenge. Luckily, the shooter of this particular film was a well-known man (and family) from New Jersey, making my genealogical work pretty minimal–but hopefully still interesting!
The movies are a few reels of 16mm black and white Kodak movie film that, according to the expiry on the original film boxes, was probably shot sometime in the early 1930s. Upon watching the footage, it appears to be nothing extraordinary to the ‘naked eye’–home movies shot on a summer (and winter) retreat featuring people swimming in a lake, hiking in the woods, and enjoying their outings. It is the addition of the shooter’s name and address on the original Kodak processing boxes, however, which add so much more depth and context.
According to the original boxes, the reels were shot by an “Arthur B. Holmes” or “A.B. Holmes” whose addresses were “42 Church St., Montclair, N.J” and “Lake Valhalla, Montville, N.J.”
Before my research even began, I knew that whoever Arthur B. Holmes was, either he or his family must have been quite well off. Home movies did not gain in popularity–nor affordability–here in the U.S. until after the Second World War–and still it was too expensive for many. Consider the fact that these home movies were shot during the Great Depression and you have another layer of proof that whoever made these movies had deep pockets for a very expensive camera, very expensive film, and (probably) a very expensive projector.
Turns out the man in question is Arthur Brautigam Holmes, born on the 1st of October 1888 in Montclair, New Jersey. He was the son of Samuel Judd Holmes and Sarah Josephine Brautigam which explains where Arthur got his middle name.
Indeed, Arthur was from a well-to-do family and achieved great success in his career as an internationally-known architect during his life. However, before I write more on Arthur, let’s go back a generation to his father to understand a bit more about where Arthur came from.
Samuel Judd Holmes was born in Midtown Manhattan in 1859–just a few doors down from the future site of the Empire State Building. A successful businessman and merchant, Samuel married Sarah and he and the family moved to Montclair in 1867 and was an early settler of the area. He built the beautiful Victorian home that Arthur grew up in on Park Street in 1887 after moving out of the home his own parents built that eventually was the site of a very grand hotel. In 1897 he and his brothers started a real estate company which he worked at until only a few years before his death. It was this real estate business that Arthur was likely exposed to the architecture businesses and perhaps was inspired by the work of his father and business associates.
After a long and distinguished career in real estate, Samuel died at his home on Park Street after a sudden heart attack on the 16th of January 1932. His wife died a few years later in 1935.
Arthur was one of 5 children and, after graduating from high school, he went on to study at Cornell University–presumably studying architecture.
His work brought him to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where he married Alice Blanche Connelly on the 23rd of September 1915. Alice, as was custom at the time, was also from a well-to-do family both in Cleveland and in New Jersey which no doubt made both sets of parents very happy.
After the couple married they settled down at 18 Burnside Street in Montclair after some time traveling around the country for Arthur’s work which seems to have served as a sort of honeymoon. The couple had a daughter, Blanche Josephine Holmes, in June of 1918. Very tragically, Alice died of the 1917/18 Flu Pandemic on the 19th of October that year leaving Arthur a widower and a single father with a 4-month-old infant.
Arthur fell in love again and married Zillah Vezin in Yonkers on the 27th of November, 1923. Zillah was the daughter of the then famous painter and artist Charles Vezin whose paintings of New York City are well worth looking up.
The two had a daughter, Adah Holmes, in 1925.
Arthur would go on to have a very distinguished career as an architect. He was President of the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the New Jersey Society of Architects and was frequently asked to speak at universities and colleges. He also worked internationally, and his profession took him from Berlin to Puerto Rico and the West Coast of the United States. He was named Planning Director of Montclair for a short period before he was commissioned to the Public Works Reserve in Washington, D.C. in 1941.
After his retirement, he moved upstate to Ossining, NY to be nearer to his daugther, when he died after a short illness on the 19th of December, 1968. He left behind his two daughters and several grandchildren.
The scenes shot in the films are from Lake Valhalla Club in Montville, New Jersey which is still in existence today and must have been a summer destination for Arthur and his family. The precise dates of the shots are most likely between 1932 – 1935, but using the genealogical information gained, we can take a more educated guess at some of the folks in the film. The man on the roof could very well be Arthur himself—though it is difficult to see his face.
The two girls who are featured throughout the footage are no doubt Arthur’s daughters, Blanche and Adah.
The older gentleman at 1:26 (in the home movie at the top of this blog) could be Arthur’s father, Samuel—though that means the film was shot sometime before his death in January of 1932.
My research shows that there are several direct descendants of Arthur living today. I was able to track down a granddaughter and sent her a letter. As of publishing, there has been no response but stay tuned! We’ll keep this updated as we learn more.
Do you know something about Arthur or his family? Get in touch!
The information obtained about Arthur and his family was extracted from a variety of resources and databases, including the US census records, birth, marriage, and death records, address directories, passenger ship manifests, and contemporaneous newspaper articles all of which are public record.
About the author – Cleveland, Ohio native Owen McCafferty cut his teeth on film photography at the age of 11, shooting Super 8 movies on Kodachrome after discovering his grandfather’s home movies from the 1960’s. That began a life-long passion for all things film photography related, with a special interest in consumer motion picture formats. Owen taught himself how to process motion picture film at home and since joining the FPP, has tested new films and provided in-depth content to spark a passion in others who are interested in motion picture and film photography. During the day, Owen works as a Product & Innovation Manager in Cleveland. An accomplished Professional Genealogist, Owen specializes in Prussian, Polish, and Lithuanian research available online at www.OwenTheGenealogist.com.